The Seahawk varsity boys basketball warmed up for the upcoming season with a pair of pre-season losses on their home court last week, but coach Ray Bailey isn’t fretting.
The first one, against Class 6A Tallahassee Leon Tuesday, Nov. 15,, saw the return of former Franklin County assistant coach Kelsey Jones to the Nest, and his Lions handed the Seahawks a blowout 69-34 loss.
Then two night later, it was a hard-fought contest that wasn’t over until the final minute, when the St. John Paul II Panthers edged Franklin County 62-58.
“It was a good practice game,” Bailey said following the John Paul game. “I don’t think we’ll play two teams that shoot the ball as well as Leon or John Paul. We’re going to be fine, we just have a lot of work to do.”
Bailey has brought up four standouts from the middle school squad, with Sadiq Jones, Dre North and Jeremiah Allen placed on varsity, and Ashtin Gilbert on junior varsity.
The three young varsity players all saw playing time in last week’s contests, as they played alongside seniors Jaidyn Rhodes, Ta’shawn Jones and Owen Poloronis, and juniors Ethan Kembro, Lonnie O’Neal and Amontaye Austin.
But Bailey knows the changes will take a few games before they gel.
“We’re young and inexperienced,” said Bailey. “We got a little exhausted at the end (of the John Paul game). We’re not in tip top shape.
“I’m going back from team to team and so we’re not in our best shape but we will get there,” he said. “They played well, way better than Tuesday. We played together, we had leadership going on at the end but we just got fatigued.
“We had some lapses. We got tired and had a lot of lapses, on offense as well as defense,” Bailey said.
The Seahawks led by more than 20 points at the half, but after a long, dry scoring spell in the third quarter, John Paul had knotted the contest at 51-all with four minutes left to play in the game.
Jones nailed a bucket, and then the Seahawks got a break when a three-second violation nullified a Panther trey.
A Poloronis drive to the basket gave the Seahawks a four-point lead, 55-51, but a Panther three-pointer closed the gap to one.
A Seahawk inbounding mistake turned the ball back over to John Paul, who then scored to take their first lead since the opening quarter, 56-55.
The Panthers gave the Seahawks an opening by nailing only one of their next four free throws, to hold on to a slim 57-55 lead.
William Chastine, who along with fellow sophomores Clayton Martina and Ajaylin McNair, and freshmen Eric Smith rounds out the lineup, nailed a free throw to close the gap to one.
But John Paul made 5 of their 7 free throws down the stretch, and while a late Poloronis bucket brought the team within three, it wasn’t enough for the win.
Leon, which lost in Thursday’s opener 94-82 to Crossroad Academy, was too much for Franklin County in the Tuesday game, leading pretty much from start to finish.
“My focus now is getting the team where we need to be and not letting up and learning how to keep pushing through,” said Kelsey Jones, following his downing of his alma mater. “I wasn’t as pleased as I would like to be. In some spots we were not as efficient as I wanted to be and in other places we excelled, so now we go back to the drawing board.”
Jones said he is delighted to have his new coaching position, after a couple years coaching at Franklin County.
“I’ve given this community everything I’ve had to give,” he said. “I love it (at Leon). It’s a great opportunity, the community’s great, the school’s great. I got a great group of kids. We just got to whip them back into shape.”
Franklin County begins its regular season after Thanksgiving, Nov. 30 at home against Wwakulla. They compete in Class 1A District 4, which also includes Aucilla Christian, Jefferson County, Port St. Joe, Wakulla Christian and Wewahitchka.